The Oscar Wilde — Insolence Incarnate exhibition is at the Petit Palais until January 15; Tuesday-Sunday, 10am to 6pm; Friday to 9pm. More: petitpalais.paris.fr. L’Hotel is a member of Small Luxury Hotels of the World, which has offers of 20 per cent off rooms at its nine Paris properties. More: slh.com. L’Hotel is offering guided Oscar Wilde-themed lunch or afternoon tea tours for the duration of the exhibition plus entrance tickets. From €40 ($57.60) a person. More: l-hotel.com. is the Marquess of Queensberry’s card, delivered to Wilde’s club, on which the marquess had written, “For Oscar Wilde posing somdomite [sic].” It was Wilde’s disastrous libel suit that led to the criminal case against him.
On his release, Wilde went first to Dieppe and then, in 1898, to Paris, first staying at Hotel de Nice on Rue des Beaux Arts, then moving to Hotel d’Alsace where, at 11am, he would breakfast on bread, butter and coffee. At 2pm, he’d have a cutlet and two hard-boiled eggs, washed down with Courvoisier cognac.
He then stretched out the days and nights, smoking and drinking in his old haunts, borrowing money from passing old friends such as Andre Gide. Wilde’s final destination in Paris was a sombre but beautiful one: his tomb in Pere Lachaise Cemetery, designed by Jacob Epstein.
Immediately after his death Wilde was buried in a leased pauper’s grave in Bagneux, outside the walls of Paris. It was only in 1909 — with Wilde’s bankruptcy paid off by the posthumous sales of his works — that his old friend, Robbie Ross, moved him to Pere Lachaise, where his tomb is the most visited, more popular than the graves of Maria Callas, Chopin and Jim Morrison.
But since the 1990s, pilgrims have peppered the stonework with kisses. Fat from the lipstick sank into the stone, and had to be removed with solvent poultices. Over the years, Epstein’s work has been slowly decaying and, in 2011, the Irish government paid to clean and degrease the tomb, and install a kiss-proof glass barrier. Now people kiss the glass and the sun projects the lipstick outlines on to Wilde’s tomb. I’m sure he would have approved.
TELEGRAPH MEDIA GROUP